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The Manila Times : Moral turpitude vs intellectual bankruptcy in Marcos disqualification case

News & Interviews
9 November 2021

By Yen Makabenta | The Manila Times

First word

IT is troubling, to say the least, that in handling the "moral turpitude" disqualification petition instigated by retired justice Antonio Carpio, the team of presidential candidate Ferdinand 'Bongbong' Marcos, Jr. wavered between nonchalance and confusion in facing it.

The petition is designed to disrupt the campaign and take away the bloom off the rose of BBM's candidacy and bring down his favorability ratings.

Serious analysts and observers of this election cycle naturally expect BBM to respond effectively to this new tactic of his political opponents. They figure this indicates how he will tackle thorny problems during his presidency.

It would be intemperate and out of character for BBM to respond with fury, and pour fire and brimstone over those attacking him.

It is wiser for him to address the problem thoughtfully, always keeping the counterattack in check.

It would be a mistake for his spokesmen and lawyers to froth in the mouth when tackling the problem.

The image of a campaign that knows what it is doing in the face of vicious attacks is vital.

On this moral turpitude and disqualification charge, a good number of experts and opinion leaders, including law school deans, have come out publicly to declare that this case has no substance and is certain to collapse. There is absolutely no chance that the petition will succeed.

Even so, it is important to recognize that the moral turpitude charge merits a stinging reply. Carpio should not be allowed to wallow in the publicity and freely invent more roadblocks to the campaign.

Moral turpitude

Carpio, the unrequited justice-turned-politician (he was bypassed by three presidents in his bid to become chief justice and seeks to become kingmaker in the 2022 elections), is playing partisan politics, and is now resorting to trickery in deceiving the nation with his tortured depiction of Bongbong Marcos as a tax evader and guilty of moral turpitude, therefore disqualified to run for president in the 2022 election.

By pasting BBM with the still undefined and nebulous offense of moral turpitude, he seeks to bathe his name in odium so voters will turn away from him instead of lavishing him with support.

Those of us who probably know English better than Carpio (because the language is our principal tool for communication and because we studied it formally in school), will dismiss outright moral turpitude as legalese designed to deceive and confuse. This should logically lead to the denial of the disqualification petition by the Commission on Elections (Comelec).

Legalese, according to Merriam Webster, is the specialized language of the legal profession, which lawyers employ to delude people in the writing of contracts and other documents. It separates itself from plain talk and is also called legal jargon.

Webster dates the first use of legalese to 1911, but obviously the practice of legal trickery had been happening much earlier than that.

As recently as Oct. 12, 2021, Alex Lazarev declared in Forbes magazine that "descriptions need to be in plain English rather than complicated legalese." Kate Arnold of the New Republic wrote on Aug. 4, 2021: "Newsrooms aren't equipped with congressional research service veterans ready to decode what the oh-so-careful legalese in a brick of legislation actually means."

Because he moonlights as a columnist for the Philippine Daily Inquirer, Carpio feels he is at liberty to decorate our world of journalism with legalese.

Moral turpitude is just one example of legalese that is obscure not only to the general public, but even to lawyers and jurists themselves.

The moral turpitude charge should be exposed for what it is, an item of uniform disinterest and indifference today in American and Philippine jurisprudence.

This is the accusation that the Marcos team should confront in the disqualification petition, not the dubious charge of tax evasion.

Moral turpitude is designed to shame and annoy, because the word 'moral' carries an electric charge.

But what is moral turpitude exactly?

Most English dictionaries, British and American, do not carry the term. It does not exist for them. What we find instead are the words, torpor (which means inertia or apathy) and torpid (which means sluggish).

Moral turpitude exists solely in Black's Law Dictionary, which is a legal lexicon.

The term moral turpitude first took root under the United States immigration laws. Its history can be traced back as far as the 17th century when the states of Virginia and Pennsylvania enacted the earliest immigration resolutions excluding criminals from America, in response to the British government's policy of sending convicts to the colonies.

In the Philippines, the term moral turpitude was first introduced in 1901 in Act No. 190, otherwise known as the "Code of Civil Actions and Special Proceedings." The act provided that a member of the bar may be removed from office or suspended as a lawyer by the Supreme Court upon conviction of a crime involving moral turpitude. Subsequently, the term moral turpitude has been employed in statutes governing disqualifications of notaries public, priests and ministers in solemnizing marriages, registration to military service, exclusion and naturalization of aliens, discharge of the accused to be a state witness, admission to the bar, suspension and removal of elective local officials, and disqualification of persons from running for any elective local position.

Early on, the Philippines followed the American lead and adopted a general dictionary definition, opening the way for a case-to-case approach in determining whether a crime involves moral turpitude.

In the US, these same definitions have been highly criticized for their vagueness and ambiguity. Justice Jackson noted that "except for the courts [majority opinion], there appears to be a universal recognition that we have here an undefined and undefinable standard. Thus, the phrase crimes involving moral turpitude has been described as vague, nebulous, most unfortunate, and even bewildering."

Intellectual bankruptcy

It is in this context, of a crime or offense that the courts and jurisprudence cannot define or fully understand that Carpio has introduced "moral turpitude" into our current election cycle.

For a former justice who is supposed to have fully served his time in the public service, and has received the emoluments and retirement pay for his service, Carpio appears to be a malcontent who still wants to be involved in politics and government.

He has messed with the debate over the South China Sea and West Philippine Sea, and he seeks to influence Philippine policy towards China and the US.

He batted hard for the disputed court of arbitration ruling on the sea dispute.

For the 2022 election, he has served as a convenor of the Sambayan1 coalition which aspires to field its own set of candidates for president and vice president.

Now, he has busied himself with the challenge of stopping BBM's candidacy for president, which threatens to run away with the election before the vote can even be held.

Carpio on his own has devised the plan for the disqualification petition before Comelec to remove BBM as a candidate. He has laid out the grounds and the arguments for the petition.

He fully deserves the credit as well as the onus for this desperate effort to stop BBM. It would be fitting for Carpio to himself appear before the Comelec in the forthcoming hearings. He himself should make the argument because he understands it the most and can best present its merit.

But there is a gigantic problem that this scheme must hurdle. Our people will not stand for this naked attempt to pervert the election and disqualify a leading candidate for president. No matter what technicalities Carpio will recite, no one can see why this frustrated justice is moving heaven and earth to deprive the people of the chance to vote in BBM.

Having no means to stop BBM from running away with the election, especially with the charismatic Davao City Mayor Sara Duterte-Carpio slated to team up with him, Carpio and the liberals and the Yellows are bidding to disqualify him outright from next year's election.

Intellectual bankruptcy

This is a confession of inutility and total bankruptcy of ideas.

They can see that with the removal of Smartmatic from the tabulation of the votes, Vice President Leni Robredo will be like a flying trapeze artist performing without a safety net to break her fall.

In the election, without Smartmatic as a safety net to do the counting, there will be nothing to catch Leni when she tumbles down in defeat.

In the 2016 election, they set up the balloting so that Robredo could beat BBM despite his high popularity, on orders from on high. The government cheated for Robredo then, Smartmatic was the tool to make it happen.

This time around disqualifying BBM in the election is the weapon of last resort.

The philosopher-writer Ayn Rand concocted a term for this kind of desperate maneuver: intellectual bankruptcy. The utter lack of sound ideas for obtaining what you seek or desire.

In 1962, Rand delivered a lecture when she argued that America's intellectuals had defaulted on their responsibility to understand and defend capitalism. She contended that intellectuals failed to grasp the source of businessmen's productivity and the destructive effects of collectivist schemes implemented by government coercion. By failing to uphold the value of individual liberty, intellectuals paved the way for authoritarian states and the decline of freedom in the 20th century.

Here in our county, the political opposition to the Duterte government and the opposition to the return of a Marcos to political power, find themselves in similar rut in stopping BBM from winning the election next year.

They are totally bankrupt of ideas. All they have now are the goofy ideas of Carpio, who is at best a pretender in politics. He was not good enough to win the nod of a president to name him chief justice of the Supreme Court. Why should the opposition now put all their eggs in a basket to be hand-carried by Carpio?